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Riding into the Storm
By P. Stone
Date: 2/28/2006
Riding into the Storm

The chronology of history is rich with everyday people accomplishing extraordinary feats equipped with nothing more than desire, an undeniable will and the need to overcome an injustice or tragedy. Dread and despair so absolute that they can manifest massive action, clarity, courage, steadfast ability and a profound appreciation of life. The silver lining in the cloud is energy.

Some extreme or endurance sports try to emulate this magnitude of challenge by limiting fatal or dire consequences in a semi-controlled testing ground. They offer the opportunity for men and women to measure themselves against extreme conditions and their peers. Mountain climbing is the world's most recognized manifestation of this. An activity where the risk remains high and the reward is in the doing.

English adventurer Jason Lewis, pedaled a kayak alone from South America to the Solomon Islands. Approaching the Solomons, two days out, he lost his ability to desalinate water. When he finally arrived "a tad parched" at the customs port of entry they drew arms and refused him water until a citizen broke through and gave him some. Afterwards he felt a resentment, an undercurrent of hatred from many locals.Recalling the drama as he prepared for the next leg of his trek he said, "I would go back tomorrow, when they put that gun to my head, I have never felt so alive! I thought I had trouble when my desalinater went!". ( I recently read an article about Mr. Lewis being held captive overnight on an uninhabited South Pacific Island by a sea crocodile that chased him ashore.)

Unlike those recorded in the world's history, these individuals are not thrust into the confrontation they seek it out. They stand ready to answer the call of the wind with everything they can muster.

Many begin their foray into ultra endurance cycling unknowingly with a series of events that first harvest a rider's interest and then nudge their participation.Their first century, a memorable weekend trek, a team 24 hour event, a solo 24, the desire to ride to the family cabin 340 miles away. In the beginning it is as much about self discovery as it is about the cycling.

Others go a little faster, pouring gasoline on their fire. At age 17, Alaskan Ben Couturier won the Fireweed 400 in under 22 hours on a 30 year old steel bike. Three years later, looking no worse for wear, he became the youngest rider to ever complete the 3,000 mile Race Across America.

Distance is not the ultimate objective though. Often marathon runners speak of hitting the wall, with ultra cycling its more of a storm. While there are weather conditions that wreak great havoc it is the internal storm that is most critical obstacle a rider must contend with. To be effective a rider must harness its energy. Pain is an undeniable factor in ultra-cycling and often a desired one. Couturier once said, "I feel that Walkmans and computers and heart rate monitors and all of the other toys out there take away from the concentration and that self drive of the race. To numb your mind with electronics feels like cheating because you lose the pain."

Jure Robic of Slovenia, an ultra-endurance champion and currently the one to beat on the international scene races from the start of a race to position himself in the eye of that storm, often riding 36 hours or more before sleeping. expediting all the hardships of an ultra endurance racer to do so. He directs his race from the eye of the storm. The only man who can boast of beating him, (not that he ever would), is Allen Larsen of Washington State. Larsen has had a very successful, albeit short, ultra career, winning RAAM rookie of the year in 2002 and following up by winning the race in 2003. Larsen also likes to race at the front of the pack and is willing and able to ride 36 or more hours non-stop to attain the placement. In '02 he finished RAAM with a self-made support brace which held his neck up while he was in the saddle, an effort that also earned him a special award for the most inspirational rider. While training for RAAM 2004 Larsen suddenly withdrew from RAAM, probably the result of over-training, - currently registered to return in 2006 to the Race Across America. Larsen knows all about pain and energy

The chemistry of an ultra endurance competition is as unique to each rider as their DNA. The greatest challenges comes from within. Like a plane, flying-on-empty one must eliminate all excess baggage. This is especially true of mental energies the less to consider, the more one can concentrate is perhaps the Zen of ultra-racing.

Riders encounter routes impeded by mountains or expanses so great it is as if their progress is suspended or undetectable. The distance plays pranks. On either side of an instant, perception can race from alien to hospitable and back again. Problems multiply, pain intensifies, head winds grow - sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion, hallucinations and the demand of distance reach depths where only energy can survive. To stamp your passport you just need to weather the storm.

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